Freelance in 30 Days is the first book I’ve written. It’s self-published and I wrote and published the 200-page book in around 100 days, starting late August and finishing in early December.
Along the way I’ve learnt a lot about the self-publishing process and gathered lots of information about how to make it work for you.
Here’s my experience on what worked and what didn’t go so well in the self-publishing journey.
In this article:
Self-publishing advice from published authors
One thing I did do before I even put pen to paper was to email several contacts who I know had published books in the past few years. This was a great way to find out more about what I was letting myself into and how I should approach writing the book itself.
While the three people I contacted gave varied advice, they all didn’t regret writing the book – a good sign! – but they did say that I should approach writing the book for the right reasons.
Stephen Waddington, author of Brand Anarchy among other books, gave me loads of good advice before I even got going:
- "My best advice is don’t write a book for any other reason than profile and lead generation. You won’t make any money from it."
- "Writing a good book takes loads of research and time to write and edit. You need to spend a third of your time on each. I’d hire a good virtual admin and even consider someone to help with research."
- "I’ve always gone the traditional route. Bloomsbury and Wiley are massive badges of credibility."
- "I’ve always gone direct to the publisher, but I’ve got an agent for my next book predominantly to nail overseas deals."
- "To get it written takes discipline. I’ve increasingly started thinking out loud on my blog as I explore topics for my next book. That’s useful as other people jump in and help develop ideas. It also provides the basis for a community for the finished product."
I’d say that points 1 and 5 are most relevant to me.
With point 1, getting Stephen’s advice before I had even planned out the book was great, as I was heading into the process with the right aims in mind (profile and lead generation) rather than the wrong aims (making money). That also means I won’t be disappointed if my book doesn’t sell so much that I can retire. That’ll take a few more books at least.
With point 5, I took to writing as a discipline well. I’ve been blogging on and off for years, as well as regularly writing articles for clients as part of my client work, so I was used to the hard work needed for writing. But a 40,000+ word book? That took a new level of discipline and dedication.
Along the way, I have built up a mini-community. People like Zoe Amar, Hannah Goff, Damien Clarkson and Jenny Lowthrop have all chipped in with ideas for chapters or topics I should cover. Plus I’ve had a couple of readers email me with their freelancing questions, which I’ve answered on this blog and then turned into chapters for the book.
Stepehn also suggested I contact Sarah Stimson, author of How to get a job in PR. I went to Sarah’s book launch and even blogged about the book when it first launched, so it was great to chat to her about how she went about publishing her book.
Here’s what Sarah advised:
- I found the whole process pretty easy, although it can be time consuming.
- There are lots of benefits to self-publishing beyond earning more cash; you have control of EVERYTHING, you get to see instant sales figures rather than waiting for your publisher’s statement, you can decide exactly where and when you want to sell the book.
- The cons are that it’s down to you to do ALL the marketing and PR and that distribution in bricks and mortar stores is almost impossible – but not completely.
- The other thing is that getting translated copies is v difficult so if you want it in other languages that can be a bit of a hurdle.
- Audio books also v difficult as a self-publisher in the UK, although that’s now changed in the US and I suspect will become easier here in the next 12 months.
- If you sell mostly online, then self-publishing is definitely a good option.
- In an ideal world you’d have what is known as a hybrid deal with a traditional publisher – they’d publish the physical book and do all the foreign translations and distribution for both hard copy and e-books, and you’d self-publish the English language e-books. My understanding though is that deals like that are very very hard to come by as publishers don’t want to give up the rights to e-books – as that’s where the money is, frankly.
- I’ve also listed the book on Smashwords, which is an e-book distributor which then sends it out to Apple, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, WH Smith etc etc. They then take a cut. You *can* upload it directly to most of those sites but to be honest it was such a faff I didn’t think it was worth it.
I certainly agree with point 1. The process of self-publishing (that is, the uploading of the relevant files, categories the book and adding the descriptions, etc) is relatively straight forward, but is time consuming. This can be slightly frustrating when you’re excited about getting your book up on to the internet and out there in the world as soon as possible, but taking the time to get this part right is worth it.
The pros and cons of of self-publishing that Sarah outlines are spot on. I’ve been in charge of everything (for better or worse…) but I’m having to put a lot more into Marketing and PR (more on how I’ve found that later).
Sarah did go into more detail about pricing and editing options, but these are the most relevant points for those getting started. She also recommended two books to read – Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible – but I’m yet to buy copies of those. I plan to over the Christmas period, both to learn how to improve my own self-publishing journey, but also to help other self-published authors.
Lastly, I spoke to Will McInnes, author of Culture Shock: A Handbook For 21st Century Business.
Here’s what Will had to say:
- I wanted to: learn more about traditional publishing, gain credibility as a consultant / ‘expert’ and set myself up for a possible breakout success
- But self-publishing is going to be faster, more profitable per book and is the way the world is heading.
- I did learn about traditional publishing, and that was good for me, but I’m not sure how valuable that is.
- When I tell people I wrote a book, they often assume it was self-published. Being published has much greater cachet, and you see that in their reaction.
- I didn’t have a breakout success, and never saw my book in a book shop (though others did).
- I had a powerpoint master deck that I configured all my talks from. That body of work essentially became the framework for the book, with a bit of massaging and iterating. I’d find it harder to start from scratch, and have that research phase get in the way of me just cracking on.
- I found it to be one of the most satisfying work things I’ve ever done,. So I recommend writing a book 🙂
Gaining credibility as a consultant or expert is one of the main reasons I wrote a book. I’ve already got a few paid consultancy gigs around my freelancing experience, which I wouldn’t have got if I hadn’t written a book about it. I expect there’ll be much more to come too, so writing a book about freelancing has definitely made a positive impact on my consultancy work.
While going the self-publishing route is definitely a faster way to get published and I do get to keep more profits per sale, I do have to do all of the marketing and PR for the book myself. I’ve heard that even if you do get a traditional publisher to publish your book, you still have to do a lot of the promotion yourself.
While I don’t have the resources or reach of a traditional publisher, I do have the advantage of building up my own audience for my writing, which will come in useful for later updates. If I went through a traditional publisher, they would keep my audience.
And finally, if Will found writing a book to be one of the most satisfying work things he’s over done, then that was a big reason for me to do the same.
How I planned and wrote the book
I originally has the idea for the book after looking through my blog stats. How to become a freelance consultant was my most popular posts in the past year or so, both in terms of traffic and comments. It seemed a natural step to expand on that blog post and turn it into a fully fledged book.
Nathan Barry, author of Authority, stresses the importance of writing regularly. In fact, he went on a 650-day streak of writing at least 1,000 words a day. Nathan even built is own habit building app to help others reach the same consistency of writing.
While I wasn’t planning to match that length of consistency, I was planning to write regularly and at length. If you write for quality only, it can be hard to reach the quantity I had in mind for the book. But if you aim for quantity, then quite often the quality comes with it. Or I could go back and edit that quantity to make it more quality, such is the power of the online publishing tools that we have available.
Writing a string of lengthy blog posts was a good approach. Rather than settle for the 300-400 word average as I had previously, I spent more time covering each topic in-depth, racking up 1,500 word plus posts on several occasions.
When I had written 25 or so of those posts, I divided the articles up into sections that seems to flow naturally, e.g. finance and accounting, finding clients, registering your business, etc. This formed the sections and chapter outline for the book.
One of the biggest advantages of writing the book in this way is that the SEO value of the blog increased substantially, all with relevant keywords related to the subject of the book.
Here’s a graph of organic search traffic to this blog from when I started writing to the book up until the week it was published:
And how I’ve improved the rank for freelancing keywords over the last few months:
If I keep building up the organic traffic in this way, supplementing that with posting to the various social networks I’m active on, then this is a solid foundation to build my credibility as a freelancer from and get more people viewing the details of the book.
One person I have to mention is Amy Hoy, whose book Just Fucking Ship is just published, was the perfect way to give me that final push to finish the book.
I could have quite easily procrastinated in finishing the book, making up lots of excuses about why it wasn’t ready to be published yet. Just Fucking Ship changed all of that and gave me the confidence to publish the book as is. Using the tools I discuss in the next section, I could always update the book if there were any major errors or typos.
The most important thing was to get the product out there for the world to see and feedback on.
Thanks Amy, for getting me over the finish line.
Publishing and promoting the book
Leanpub is a great service that allows you to put up a landing page for the book you plan to write, so you can send those who are interested in your writing over to that landing page and get them to register their interest, even before you’ve started writing the book itself.
While I set up my landing page on Leanpub when I was about half way through writing my book, when I did set it up I was able to add regular updates about how the book was progressing, before it had been published. This was a great way of building up an audience ahead of publication – or would have been if I’d promoted my Leanpub landing page properly.
Instead, I mainly used Leanpub for what I think is it’s most powerful feature: importing a blog’s RSS feed into a Dropbox folder. I simply gave Leanpub the RSS feed from benrmatthews.com and it pulled all of my posts about freelancing into a Dropbox folder. From there, I was able to directly edit the posts into a logical flow, with a table of contents, sections and chapters. This meant my blog posts were quickly turned into what you would expect from a traditional book, not just a series of blog posts thrown together.
The book is available to buy through Leanpub, but the main publishing channel I used was Gumroad, mainly because it had much better integration options for this website. You also get a landing page, which you can see for Freelance in 30 Days here.
The Leanpub team says they don’t mind people using their service just to pull their book together but publish elsewhere, but I can’t help get the feeling that they could be looking at some of Gumroad’s publishing features and try to include these more closely in their own offering.
For example, Gumroad lets you add a "Buy now" button to your website, so that people can buy your digital product straight from your site. It does take a little bit of technical know how and the button isn’t customisable, but it is a great way to encourage people to buy your product without leaving your site.
Here’s what the button looks like:
Buy the book now
Give it a click too to see how it works. You don’t have to buy the book, but I won’t blame you if you do…
Leanpub allowed my to create a PDF, epub and mobi versions of the book, so I downloaded these, zipped them up and then uploaded the final file to Gumroad. So now if you buy Freelance in 30 Days through my site, you’ll get the exact same book as you would have if you had bought it via Leanpub and Gumroad directly.
Another nice feature is that you’re able to take pre-orders for your products. I actually sold two copies of Freelance in 30 Days before the book had been published, which gave me a great boost of confidence to get the book finished and out there.
As for editing, I had a fantastic editor in my wife, Jaz, who has previously worked at the Guardian newspaper. In a massive editing session, she managed to read through the whole book and send my typos, grammatical errors and other suggestions to make the text of the book flow better.
Thanks to her, I could be confident that the book would be high quality, not full of typos like some of my blog posts are!
And to back that up, when I uploaded the book to Amazon, it scanned through the book to heck for spelling errors and typos. The result is testament to Jaz’s editing skills:
Yes, Freelance in 30 Days is available on Amazon in their Kindle format. I think the reach of Amazon’s marketplace is too much not to list it there. It does cause pricing issues around selling through my own site (the price on Amazon is a little less than on this site), but I think the added value of buying the book through my site (it’s available in more formats and I plan to add extras like worksheets and templates) will be enough to justify that.
I plan to write more about my experience of self-publishing through Amazon, but there’s lots of similar posts out there already and I’ll come back to the subject later.
Around launch, I knew that my email list would be key to getting the word out about the book. Unfortunately, it’s a little on the small side, at a couple of hundred people, as I only started the list in August.
I’m happy with the growth rate of my email list and I know this specific areas doesn’t make or break the launch of a book, but I know that the launch suffered as I didn’t have an email list in the several thousands.
I’ll continue to add to the email list, which will pave the way for future updates to the book, added extras for the book, and any other products I launch in the future.
Next steps and goals for 2015
Now I’ve got Freelance in 30 Days out there, I could take a step back and let this website and the listing on Amazon do the selling for me. But I know that it takes a lot of marketing and PR from the author’s side to make a book visible online, so in the New Year I’ll be giving the book more promotion.
This is also a great time for promoting the book, as people may be looking to change careers in January and my book is the perfect way to help them.
Here’s what I’m planning to do in the next few weeks to add to the book:
- Hire a designer to redesign the front cover (I’ve already got Hannah Goff lined up)
- Create a template to remove the header and navigation menu from the book’s landing page (best practise is to remove any extra links that might make people click away before they buy the book)
- Optimise the copy on the landing page and test what copy works best
- Add links to buy the book in older blog posts
- Add information about the book to my Mailchimp email course on freelancing
- Create worksheets and templates to go with the book (invoice template, example contract, rate calculator spreadsheet)
- Record a podcast version of the book
- Optimise the listing on Amazon
- Add the book to Createspace (print-on-demand publishing from Amazon)
- Email relevant freelancing and small business websites to offer guest articles in return for promoting the book
- Scope out an idea for a competition to give away free copies of the book in return for people’s email addresses
I’m sure there’s more, but as you can from the above there’s plenty to keep me busy already.
I could have spent more time on any number of items on this list, but I felt that getting the book itself written and published was a big milestone in itself, since this was my first book, and the rest of the promotional elements around it could wait until I’d got that finished.
I’d love to hear from you about my experience in this post and the book itself. Any feedback would be useful, so I can continue to learn and improve.
And if you’ve read this far, thanks for being part of my self-publishing journey. I hope it encourages you to start your own journey too.
P.S. you can buy Freelance in 30 Days now!